The Carchive: The MkIII Vauxhall Carlton

20140505_172728 Welcome to The Carchive, and an opportunity to either sob with misty eyes about times gone by or to shrug your shoulders and move on. Today we look at a car which has all but disappeared from British roads. When, in 1991, the “Bathtub” Caprice first heaved into view, it was a marked departure from the parallelogram-styled ’77 vintage model that went before. In 1986 something similar happened across Europe, when the new, streamlined Vauxhall Carlton and Opel Omega were launched to fairly widespread acclaim. Boasting a drag co-efficient of just 0.28 for some variants, it applied all of the aerodynamic thinking that was all the European rage, and the net result was one of the more distinctive cars of the ’80s. The Opel version, named Omega, was probably the last German built car to feature semi-concealed rear wheels, just like those first ’91 Caprices. And that, in itself, should be reason enough for celebrating it. 20140505_172741 “If you like peace and quiet when you’re in the fast lane… the Carlton is made to measure for your pleasure” The previous Carlton had been a straightforward meat ‘n veg saloon car which fell into the same size and price bracket as the Ford Granada, Renault 25 and junior versions of the Rover SD1. It was utterly conventional in design and packaging, but solidly engineered. It brought precious little in the way of innovation to the world, though, and had become rather forgotten by the market. 20140505_172759 “…this is the saloon and estate car range that ably demonstrates the best of modern automotive design and technology” The ’86 Carlton was a quantum leap forwards. Think abacus to calculator, fish-paste to caviar. The looks were the first clue that things had changed and that GM wanted the middle-market to know that they were planning for the future. Mechanically, there was still a set of MacPherson Struts up front, as per common convention, but they had been integrated into what Vauxhall liked to call Advanced Chassis Technology. This was the first time that Carlton had possessed anything advanced; though the old model had been early in offering an illuminated vanity mirror in the passenger sun visor, just like the Sierra Ghia that I rave about given any opportunity. The future had arrived. 20140505_172812 “It’s the car which brings you peace of mind” Advanced Chassis Technology, or ACT was a title supposed to reflect the sophistication of its independent suspension system, although it all still boiled down to struts up front and semi-trailing arms at the back. Nothing anywhere in the brochure explains exactly what was advanced about it. As with any car range from a large-volume manufacturer, there was a broad choice of trim levels ranging from the barren to the baroque, though none of the Carltons was absolutely devoid of equipment; even the base “L” model had a tach, power antenna, FM/cassette and central locking, and all models had a glass sunroof. They were all comfortable, well equipped cruisers. The media agreed: “In fact, when Autocar tested the Carlton CD they came to the conclusion that “…the level of standard equipment is such that it might be easier to list the things the CD hasn’t got” 20140505_172748 CD brought more electrical operation of interior gewgaws, as well as the option of air-conditioning a feature still not de rigeur across Europe, and Blaupunkt stereo radio cassette and CD player. CDX had even more, with cruise, headlamp wipers and splinters of wood trim scattered around the place. But really, what the name Carlton meant for me was the high-performance models. 20140505_172821 “The outstanding Carlton GSi 3000 is the top performer in the Vauxhall range” That almost seemed like underplaying things. The GSi3000, by 1990, was available with a 204hp from its 24-valve straight six-cylinder engine. With the manual box, 0-60 happened in 6.6 seconds. 149mph could be wrung out with surprising ease. And this was all without having to forego any of the luxuries found in the non-sporting models. The GSi also came with a digital dashboard, which was extremely cool from the distorted, naïve perspective of me as a nine-year old. In fact, hell, I still think those things are cool, even if they are as Eighties as wearing shoulder pads to a Miami Sound Machine concert. 20140505_172828 The Carlton was, without much doubt, a very good car in a lot of ways. The Opel-badged version won the distinction of European Car Of The Year for 1986, which often doesn’t mean much, but this time the award-givers were damn right. Despite being conceived in Germany, it wasn’t as dour and drab as the admittedly excellent similarly sized rivals from that country. The aerodynamic styling had more flair, the spacious interiors were lighter and more airy. And the pricing of the Carlton significantly undercut the BMW 5-series, which was mechanically not a million miles away. BMW must have been upset when Autocar and Motor declared the 535i as second best to the Carlton GSi3000. And that’s to say nothing of the Lotus Carlton, which was a whole ‘nother matter, transcending the super-sedan category and placing itself squarely into the multiple-occupancy projectile sector. But to be honest, if you seriously needed more speed-on-demand than the GSi could offer, you really ought to have planned your diary in advance and worked on your punctuality. (Disclaimer: Images are of original manufacturer publicity materials, photographed by me. Copyright remains property of General Motors. GM don’t sell anything like the Carlton or Omega in Europe any more, apparently nobody bought them. Shame on you, population of Europe)

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